Elaine Fine on Alex Ross

Elaine Fine makes some excellent observations in response to Alex Ross’s New Yorker piece on his whirlwind trip hearing the Indianapolis, Nashville, and Birmingham Symphonies.

She’s quite right, especially about the notion that people get a job in one of these orchestras and then “move up” to another orchestra. Not only are there few positions open, but the audition process itself is enormously expensive and emotionally wrenching. Once a young player wins a permanent seat in a fine orchestra, becomes part of a community, etc., the motivation to go through the horrors of the process diminishes considerably. If you have a strong enough sense of your own worth that you don’t need the prestige of being in an ever more prestigious orchestra, or being a principal player, it can turn out that playing in a wonderful orchestra in city like Indianapolis, where the cost of living is low compared to New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, can make for a wonderful life.

A former student of mine is now the Associate Principal cellist in a southern orchestra. I had assumed that once he got that job, he’d be using it as a stepping stone for a more prestigious one. He’s not trying for other jobs, though; he’s happy where he is. He’s probably happier where he is than he would be living in a big, industrial northern city. And he has no desire to put himself through the audition process again.

The exciting news for orchestra lovers is not that terrific young people graduate from conservatories, spend a year or two in a regional orchestra, and then move on. It’s that terrific young people, qualified to play in any orchestra in the world, graduate from conservatories, join a regional orchestra, and spend a life there making music.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Elaine Fine on Alex Ross

  1. Elaine Fine

    Thanks for your kind words and your excellent elaborations on what seems to be the “New Yorker’s view of the musical world.”

    People from my Eastern past often wonder how I can survive out here–imagining a landscape kind of like the picture attached to the Ross article. In many ways the Midwest is kind of like the East Coast used to be when I was growing up. I have had some of the best musical experiences of my life out here, and best of all, I can afford to live.

  2. Eric Edberg

    Thanks for your note–and I fixed the spelling of your name in the headline! 🙂

  3. Michael Leddy

    Hi Elaine, hi Eric,

    Re: landscape: the Alex Ross conception of things recalls Saul Steinberg’s View of the World from 9th Avenue.

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